speeding ticket questions and concerns
November 9, 2004 3:21 PM   Subscribe

My husband is going to court in Atlanta/Fulton County next week for a speeding ticket. He has an unpaid speeding ticket in another state from two years back, but was able to renew his license here without any problems at all. The primary reason he's going to the court date is because we can't afford to pay the fine before then and they don't accept payments the day of the court date without you appearing in court. I'm scared the judge will somehow see the unpaid speeding ticket and my husband will immediately be thrown in jail. What is the likelihood of this happening? Am I being irrational?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total)
Can you afford to pay the fine even one day ahead?

If so, then you don't need to worry. Walk in and pay it one day ahead and you will be satisfied (if you planned to plead guilty at court, anyways) and most definately the teller should be happy to hear you are saving the government money on a trial.

Otherwise... I don't know. In Canada I'm pretty sure you can't get arrested for not paying your speeding tickets. They just revoke your license. Sorry!
posted by shepd at 4:17 PM on November 9, 2004

During a stint when I was unemployed and having to pay any substantial fine at once could have been financially debilitating, I had good luck calling courts and explaining my situation. As I recall, in both situations I was connected with the county DA, who apparently "prosecuted" the cases and given an opportunity to cut a deal with him. This involved agreeing to pay the fine in installments, and in one case, they reduced the fine.

Doing this might also give you a feel for how interested they are in the unpaid ticket on your record.
posted by weston at 4:43 PM on November 9, 2004

A somewhat flaky friend of mine got a ticket for about $250 (doing 103 in a 65 zone) a couple of years back near Sacramento, CA. She never paid the ticket and, when she had a court date, never showed at court at all. Eventually she called the courts and they gave her the chance to pay in installments and reduced the fine in return for her doing some community service, since she was a broke student at the time. Hope that gives you some confidence, especially since he *is* going to pay.

/mostly useless anecdote
posted by tracicle at 5:15 PM on November 9, 2004

He probably won't run into any problems. First of all, and shepd was hinting at this, we don't know what sort of penalty the other state has imposed for nonpayment, it could be either suspension of operating privileges or confinement in lieu of payment, or neither--they may have just reduced it to a civil judgment for the unpaid amount.

But also, these sorts of offenses in other states just don't "pop up" when the judge calls a case. I'm just guessing here, but I doubt that the circuit court judge checks national databases like NCIC for every defendant that's on his county traffic intake calendar, because its really not her job to do that, that's for law enforcement. And usually, all the D.A. or court officer will have with them at the initial appearance is copies of the citations and maybe a teletype of your husband's driving record from the state DOT. Beyond processing the citation with the court and showing up at the initial appearance, they probably haven't put too much thought into this ticket. But even assuming that the state/county runs extensive multi-state inquiries on each *non-criminal* traffic defendant and that there is a warrant out for his arrest in another state, it seems like they'd have to go through some sort of extradition process with the other jurisdiction's law enforcement etc., all of which is a huge pain in the ass for an ADA or county attorney who just wants to close traffic cases.

Also, how sure are you that his appearance is mandatory? In my state, failure to appear means that a default judgment is entered and you're given thirty days to pay before penalties are imposed. And usually, even if you're defaulted you can still get the clerk to give you more time to pay. Call the Clerk of Court and get the low down on what exactly the procedure is and if nothing else works, try to get the initial appearance date postponed late enough that you'll have time to scrape up the cash.
posted by eastlakestandard at 5:22 PM on November 9, 2004

I have been in Atlanta-Fulton County Traffic Court. I sat a long time in the court room (perhaps 1 hour of the 2 hour court session), and heard a lot of pleas and a lot of plea bargains. It works like this:

There will be a few courts "in session" the day you're on. You go to the wall, find your court room, and go inside. The judge comes in. If you're going to plead guilty, you immediately are given a chance to do so, en mass. The people who want to plead guilty do so outside the court room and basically sign a form and go downstairs to pay their fines.

If you don't plead guilty, you get your "day in court" without a lawyer (or you can get a real day in court with a lawyer at a later date if you so choose). This is where I watched a lot of people plead not guilty and then be found guilty. Only one woman got off while I was there.

I didn't get the impression that they did any research into your other tickets, especially from out of state. I imagine that the paperwork might show up if it was the same license plate number, but probably not otherwise. I saw too many carbon copies and other tell-tale signs of a "paper-only" office. So I think you'll be fine, but YMMV.

I guess there could be a bench warrant for your husband's arrest. So I dunno. Perhaps you should go downtown the day before the court date, pay the fine and be done with it.
posted by zpousman at 5:48 PM on November 9, 2004

I'm not a lawyer, etc:

The other state would have to have issued a warrant or final judgement, find out where your husband is currently living, and then contact your husband's current state and have them enforce the warrant/judgment. This is all very unlikely since the courts and police generally have better things to do. Plus if they went to all this trouble, you'd be hearing from a sheriff or marshal and not the court.
posted by falconred at 6:12 PM on November 9, 2004

I would call before you go down there and find out if there is a warrant and if so, if it can be paid without even going to court.

I say this as someone who had a ticket that I thought was a citation until I got pulled over. I had a year-old warrant out for my arrest that I didn't know about and yes, they hauled my ass to jail. I'd err on the side of caution here. Holding cells suck.
posted by amandaudoff at 7:42 PM on November 9, 2004

Er...that 'citation' should be 'warning'. I shouldn't eat and post at the same time...
posted by amandaudoff at 7:43 PM on November 9, 2004

Atlanta traffic court works just the way that zpousman described. Add to that the fact that there is little if any cooperation between the states on much of anything that doesn't involve cute young blond girls that have gone missing, and I really don't think you've got a thing to worry about. All they want is your money for the matter at hand.... its an assembly line process, you're in, you're out, you're on your way.
posted by spilon at 8:40 PM on November 9, 2004

I've gone to the City of Atlanta traffic court, but don't know anything about the Fulton County one. It's as zpousman and spilon described. Go there, wait around for a while, and if you're going to plead "not guilty", it seems like you a.) have almost no chance of getting off, and b.) will wind up paying big bucks. Most "trials" went something like this: Judge asks defendant for their story. Defendant explains the situation/tells their side. Judge considers for about two seconds, bangs gavel, finds them guilty, fines them the max.

(I got lucky -- I had gotten a ticket for an expired license plate and no proof of insurance, went to court, showed them that I'd renewed my plate and had insurance coverage on the day of the ticket, and the whole thing was dismissed.)

I think it couldn't hurt to call the Clerk of Court and ask if you can pay it in advance, even by a day -- after all, it does take a few hours and can be a pain. Also, as amandaudoff says, you could ask about the warrant status. From the above link, the city traffic court's main number is 404-658-6919, and the clerk's office number is 404-658-6970.
posted by Vidiot at 6:53 AM on November 10, 2004

In many places, I do not know from Fulton Co., the prosecuter sets up a table and folks wait in line to plead and cut a deal. Usually this means less points not less money, frequently even less points and more money. However, that isn't so bad. Wouldn't you rather the county get your money than your insurance company?
posted by caddis at 6:56 AM on November 10, 2004

What about stalling?

It sounds like money is tight and satisfying both at the same time isn't practical. I would give the older out-of-state court a call and have him express his regret at not making timely payment and if there is an agreement that can be reached. At the very least you will find out if there is a warrant.

If they are insistent about payment get that squared away and then call the Fulton Co. court and ask for an adjournment (lie at the last minute if you have to). Then scrimp and save to get that one payed.
posted by cedar at 2:53 PM on November 10, 2004

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